What Makes A Parent Toxic?

by Ghost writers
4 minutes read

We love parents unconditionally, but what happens when their behavior becomes toxic? Toxic parents present something of a challenge for adult kids.  After all, most kids adore their parents, so it makes sense that when these parents engage in hurtful behaviors, the lingering effects are often generational.

“When people discuss toxic parents, they are typically describing parents who consistently behave in ways that cause guilt, fear, or obligation in their children. Their actions aren’t isolated events, but patterns of behavior that negatively shape their child’s life,” says staffers at Healthline.

They add, “The thing is, parents are human beings. And that means that they may make mistakes, yell too much, or do potentially damaging things to their kids — even unintentionally…. However, a toxic parent is more concerned with their own needs than whether what they’re doing is harmful or damaging. They likely won’t apologize or even admit that what they are doing is wrong. And the abuse or neglect tends to be ongoing or progressive.”

It’s often the case that when we talk about toxic parents, we often think of those parents who have a long history of abusing their children since early childhood.  However, that isn’t necessarily the case; parents from upper to wealthy families with no history of abusing their children can easily fall prey to toxic behaviors. 

To find out if your parent is toxic, here are some characteristics:

Constantly Critical  

Photo by Peter Dazeley

Toxic parents often criticize their children in many ways. Early adolescence is when teens are hypertensive about their appearance, how well they perform academically, how popular they are in school, and living up to everyone’s standards, including their parents.  

For many toxic parents, their negative behaviors often emerge during their children’s teenage years.  And because toxic parents have a certain mindset that often goes unchecked, their constant unflattering ways continue into their children’s adult years.   

“No child can be good enough to evoke love from a highly self-involved parent,” writes Lindsay C. Gibson,  author of Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents.  

Gibson adds, “How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents. Nevertheless, these children believe that the price of making a connection is to put other people first and treat them as more important. They think they can keep relationships by being the giver. Children who try to be good enough to win their parents’ love have no way of knowing that unconditional love cannot be bought with conditional behavior.”

Emotional Manipulation

Toxic parents know something about making their kids feel guilty. And if that method fails, they will up the theatrics, resorting to humiliation through sarcasm designed to make the child feel inferior. The bottom line is, they don’t care about their children’s emotions.

Photo by Peter Dazeley

Should toxic parent’s adult children show irritation toward their parents, this fuels toxic parents’ perspective; they would love nothing more than to point out to their children how they act childish with their outbursts.  Any emotional responses from adult children might give toxic parents the validation of why they must keep their adult children under their control. “Emotionally immature people don’t step back and think about how their behavior impacts others. There’s no cringe factor for them, so they seldom apologize or experience regret,” writes Gibson.

Disrespects Personal Boundaries

Photo by Artur Debat

Toxic parents disrespect adult children’s personal boundaries and don’t care if they have a one-sided relationship with their children.  Suppose their adult children call attention to the parent’s behavior. In that case, toxic parents believe they brought the kid into the world and will take them out. 

We cannot change toxic parents simply for many reasons, mainly because we didn’t choose our parents.  So, if the adult child wants to maintain the relationship with the toxic parent and the situation doesn’t improve, it is highly recommended that the adult child see a therapist. A therapist can foster a sense of independence while strengthening the positive qualities that the adult child brings to the interaction with their toxic parent. The therapist might offer solid advice on ways to help the adult child adjust to maintain a healthy outlook. 


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